Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Guest Post: Has Myanmar Fully Transitioned to a Democracy?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A woman walks among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar on May 3, 2016. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters) A woman walks among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar on May 3, 2016. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Helia Ighani is the assistant director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a majority of the votes after a landslide election in November 2015, becoming the first fully civilian-led government in Myanmar’s history. Once in power in April 2016, the NLD government released nearly two hundred political prisoners detained by the former military junta government, demonstrating Suu Kyi’s commitment to democratizing the country. However, the new NLD government has not yet attempted to reconcile animosity among Myanmar’s various ethnic groups—in particular, its Rohingya population. Up to 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, facing serious human rights violations, and thousands have been displaced due to violence with Buddhist nationalists (see CFR’s Global Conflict Tracker for an overview of the sectarian violence in Myanmar). Many have criticized Suu Kyi for refusing to touch the Rohingya issue, including the Dalai Lama. Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing Another Russia-Georgia Confrontation

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Protesters stand near a border sign erected by Russian and Ossetian troops along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia in the village of Khurvaleti, Georgia, on July 14, 2015. (Reuters/Mdzinarishvili) Protesters stand near a border sign erected by Russian and Ossetian troops along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia in the village of Khurvaleti, Georgia, on July 14, 2015. (Reuters/Mdzinarishvili)

Shahin Badkoubei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The next twelve to eighteen months will be a critical test of already tense and tenuous relations between Russia and Georgia. What could escalate to a level similar to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, territorial disputes over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain unresolved since Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, and are a potential trigger of conflict. Russia has not fulfilled its obligations under the 2008 cease-fire agreement, and continues to push territorial markers in the breakaway regions and grant Russian passports to citizens living there. Upcoming events, including the July Warsaw North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit and Georgia’s parliamentary elections in fall 2016, could escalate tensions or renew confrontation. Read more »

Guest Post: Mounting Pressure Threatens Stability in Jordan

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders, wait to cross into Jordan after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, east of the capital Amman, on January 14, 2016. (Reuters/Hamed) Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders, wait to cross into Jordan after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, east of the capital Amman, on January 14, 2016. (Reuters/Hamed)

Tina Huang is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Syrian civil war continues at lower levels of violence, neighboring countries face enduring security threats and international pressures to protect refugees pouring across their borders. In a new Center for Preventive Action (CPA) Contingency Planning Memorandum Update, “Growing Stress on Jordan,” Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at WINEP, discuss the implications of Jordan reaching its “saturation point” for accepting Syrian refugees. Satloff and Schenker state that the risk of domestic unrest stemming from economic privatization, corruption, and a lack of reform—which was the focus on their 2013 report, “Political Instability in Jordan”—has since diminished, while spillover from the Syrian civil war is an increasing threat. They offer policy recommendations for how the U.S. government can support its partner in the Middle East. Read more »

Guest Post: Do-It-Yourself Military Intelligence

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
View of the airstrip near Rumaylan in northeast Syria accessed on February 18, 2016. (Google Maps/DigitalGlobe) View of the airstrip near Rumaylan in northeast Syria accessed on February 18, 2016. (Google Maps/DigitalGlobe)

Harry Oppenheimer and Aaron Picozzi are research associates at the Council on Foreign Relations.

An unparalleled, indiscriminate and growing wave of transparency is exposing the deployment of military assets—once found only through labored searches of technical publications—and high definition, near-real-time images of geographical locations worldwide, are obtainable through the click of a mouse. As tensions rise between the United States and potential state and non-state adversaries, the veil of secrecy that at one time could only be lifted by intelligence agencies is now accessible to virtually anyone via the worldwide web. Read more »

Guest Post: What Happens if the Battlefield ‘Goes Dark’?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters) A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters)

Aaron Picozzi is a research associate for the military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The United States has recently enjoyed the tactical benefit of fighting enemies incapable of matching the technological prowess of the U.S. military. The use of modern weaponry against relatively antiquated forces has led to successful operations on the battlefield, particularly against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The U.S. military’s high-tech upper hand relies upon the leverage of these technological disparities, and in turn, has fostered an inflated level of combat supremacy. This problem resonates from foot soldiers to the highest level commanders and planners. Read more »

Guest Post: Obama, Don’t Cross the Rubicon in Syria

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A member of al-Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province on May 29, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters) A member of al-Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province on May 29, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters)

Bogdan Belei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On his way to Rome in 49 BCE, Julius Caesar paused before crossing the Rubicon. With only a single legion under his command, and outnumbered two to one by Pompey’s legions, the general faced the serious threat of defeat if he committed his forces to invade Rome. Ultimately, Caesar led his army to victory and solidified the Roman Empire. But the decision to fight his opposition was driven by the reality that Caesar had only one alternative to victory: surrender. Read more »

Guest Post: The Islamic State – Where is it now?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
An armed motorcade belonging to members of the Islamic Youth Council in Libya drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya, after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (Stringer/Reuters) An armed motorcade belonging to members of the Islamic Youth Council in Libya drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya, after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (Stringer/Reuters)

Helia Ighani is the assistant director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action.

Since the self-proclaimed Islamic State captured territory in Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014, their network of affiliated groups has grown significantly. The Islamic State—known previously as al-Qaeda in Iraq—was disavowed from al-Qaeda in 2014 for its divergent philosophy and brutal tactics. Pre-existing terrorist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State, increasing the number of fighters to anywhere from twenty thousand to two hundred thousand in Iraq and Syria alone. Now, nearly thirty-five terrorist groups have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Read more »

Guest Post: Unfreezing the Ukraine Conflict

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. (Lamarque/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Andrew Kenealy is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations

For some in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the ongoing low-level skirmish between Ukrainian and Russian/separatist forces has faded into the background of daily life. The nightly shelling barely affects the normal existence of Ukrainians: grocers have enough to sell in shops, public gathering spots are crowded on warm days, and reservations are still difficult to book at the best restaurants on the weekends. But despite the perception of calm, the death toll from the conflict is unsettling. After eighteen months of fighting, nearly eight thousand lives have been lost, another thirty thousand people have been wounded, and more than 1.5 million are internally displaced. Read more »

Guest Post: Making Obama’s Peacekeeping Commitments a Reality

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Leaders Summit on Peacekeeping to coincide at the United Nations in New York on September 28, 2015. (Kelly/Reuters) President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Leaders Summit on Peacekeeping to coincide at the United Nations in New York on September 28, 2015. (Kelly/Reuters)

Amelia M. Wolf is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

While chairing Monday’s Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, President Obama called on UN member states to increase their troop contributions, improve protection of civilians, and reform and modernize peace operations. The intent and outcome of the meeting is a positive step toward strengthening the ability of UN peacekeeping to work more effectively in complex environments. However, there are many issues left unaddressed, and what matters most is what comes next. Read more »

Guest Post: Setting the Boundaries in the South China Sea

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters) A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters)

Bogdan Belei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tensions between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea are rising and a miscalculation or miscommunication risks an outbreak of hostilities. Earlier this month, satellite imagery revealed that China is constructing its third airstrip in the disputed Spratly Islands, an archipelago of 750 reefs, cays, and islands claimed—in whole or in part—by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. This news follows a tense summer, during which China deployed oil rigs in disputed waters and naval standoffs between China and Vietnam culminated in a ship ramming. Beijing’s construction establishes a permanent Chinese base in disputed waters, with airstrips that could be used to launch military missions against regional rivals. China has so far only used them to conduct surveillance missions, but this alone has increased tensions and resulted in political disagreements with the United States. As the intensity and frequency of disputes over territory in the South China Sea increase, the situation has the potential to escalate into militarized conflict. Read more »